Free Access
Reprod. Nutr. Dev.
Volume 46, Number 6, November-December 2006
Page(s) 677 - 687
Published online 15 December 2006
Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 46 (2006) 677-687
DOI: 10.1051/rnd:2006038

Performance and behaviour of rabbit does in a group-housing system with natural mating or artificial insemination

Jorine M. Rommersa, Cristiano Boitib, Ingrid De Jonga and Gabrielle Brecchiab

a  Animal Sciences Group of Wageningen University and Research Centre (ASG) PO Box 65, 8200 AB Lelystad, The Netherlands
b  Dipartimento di scienze biopatologiche ed igiene delle produzioni animali e alimentari, Sezione di Fisiologia veterinaria, Laboratorio di biotecnologie, Università degli studi di Perugia, via S. Costanzo 4, 06100 Perugia, Italy

(Received 2 March 2006; accepted 7 July 2006 ; published online 15 December 2006)

Abstract - This study compared reproductive performance and behaviour of does raised in a group-housing system and in a regular cage system. The group-housing pen was divided into different functional areas for suckling, resting, and eating and special hiding areas for kits when they had left the nest-boxes and does to favour the species specific behavioural traits. Does had access to their nest-box by means of an individual Electronic Nest-box Recognition System (ENRS) activated by a coded transponder placed in their eartags. Eight does were housed in each pen. Natural mating (NM, with a buck in the group) or artificial inseminations (AI) were applied. Litter size, kit mortality and kit weight at 14 d of age were similar for group-housing and cages when NM were applied. With a natural reproduction rhythm group-housing led to an increase of +38% of litters. However, from a management point of view, a cycled production system with AI is preferred. With AI and group-housing, a lower kindling rate and a lower kit weight at weaning were found. The lower kindling rate was partly caused by pseudo-pregnancies that were found in 23% (P < 0.01) of the does in the group-housing system against 0% in the control group. Sixteen to 20% of the does in the group-housing system had skin injuries, which is an indicator for aggression among does. Most of the injuries were seen on the body and most of them were superficial bites. Based on the results of this study, it can be concluded that group-housing of rabbit does seems possible, but more research is needed to solve the problems of the decreased kindling rate and occurrence of pseudo-pregnancies, the lower weight at weaning and aggressiveness among does.

Key words: rabbits / reproduction / group-housing / behaviour / welfare / pseudo-pregnancy

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2006